Molecular and functional imaging of the human emotion circuit

Decription of the research

Our goal is to unravel the neurochemical and functional mechanisms that support human emotions, as well as their dysfunction in different psychiatric and neurological disorders. We focus particularly on studying the endogenous opioid, dopamine and endocannabinoid systems. To map the brain basis of emotions, we combine state-of-the-art nuclear medicine imaging with advanced singnal analysis, large-scale neuroinformatics and modern clinical psychology. We measure brain’s molecular organization and function with PET and MRI, but do also behavioural work using eye tracking and mobile recording techniques.

Members of the research group

Principal Investigator:

Lauri Nummenmaa
I lead the Human Emotion Systems laboratory at Turku PET Centre and Department of Psychology, University of Turku. My main specialization is in human emotion science and medical imaging, but I am also interested in advanced statistical analysis of neuroimaging data. See my curriculum vitae and Google Scholar page for more details.

Post-doctoral scientists and senior staff
Henry Karlsson
I study the structural and functional effects of obesity to the human brain. We use a multimodal neuroimaging approach with positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). By studying brain anatomy and function in both normal-weight individuals and obese patients undergoing weight loss surgery, we try to unravel the mechanisms that predispose to overeating
Marco Bucci
I am a PhD in Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine. I have worked for the past 10 years on cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. In the past three years my focus shifted on brain metabolism, anatomy and function in relation to the whole body metabolism. I have expertise in PET/CT and MRI image acquisition, processing and analysis. I support the team with my expertise in developing in-house scripts and keeping up our patient database.

Lihua Sun
I am a postdoctoral researcher studying the brain basis of psychopathy and violence. I use fMRI to investigate the functional brain circuitry behind violent and non-violent psychopathy. I also use PET to elucidate their neuromolecular basis, including the endogenous mu-opioid and serotonin pathways. More information on my Google Scholar page.
Vesa Putkinen
I joined the Turku PET centre in 2017 to investigate the role of different neurotransmitter systems in affective and cognitive processes using a large-scale neuroimaging database. My special interest is the neural and molecular basis of music-induced emotions. I obtained my PhD in psychology from the University of Helsinki and have expertise in different brain research methods including EEG, MEG and fMRI.
Janne Isojärvi
I joined the Human Emotion Systems Laboratory in 2017 as a project researcher. The project focused on building and maintaining database, holding complex neuroimaging data, to the neuroscience community.
I am also interested to develop statistical and mathematical methods for analyzing imaging data from the big data perspective.
PhD students
Lasse Lukkarinen
I study the brain basis of psychopathy and violence. Our studies will improve the understanding of the neural and psychological mechanisms of affective disorders, violence and impulsive behaviour. We use a multimodal neuroimaging approach with positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Sanaz Nazani Farsani
I joined the Emotion lab to work as image processing specialist on the AIVO database. I focus on developing and implementing pattern analysis tehcniques to unravel imaging biomarkers for neurological conditions and classifying, and develop analytic techniques for quantifying brain-environment interactions in our large-scale imaging database.
Sandra Manninen
I am a medical doctor and am doing my PhD thesis on the brain basis of social interaction and social bonding. In this project we use in vivo positron emission tomography (PET) for quantifying the role of endogenous opioid system and particualry of mu receptros in establishing long-term social bonds across individuals.
Mikko Lähteenmäki
I am a doctoral student in the Social Brain project at Aalto university. The focus of my project concerns the neural mechanics of emotion transfer and the detection of emotional signals. We employ a multifaceted approach, combining behavioral measures, psychophysical experiments using fMRI and MEG, and naturalistic two-person fMRI to study these topics.
Tomi Karjalainen
My work focuses on the human neurotransmission systems underlying emotion functions as well as the individual differences in emotional responsiveness. Using positron emission tomography we focus on the opioidergic, dopaminergic and serotonergic systems’ role in human emotionality.
Sofia Volynets
I am working on brain basis of human facial expression recognition using multivariate techniques.
Kerttu Seppälä
My work pertains serotonergic and opioidergic circuits involved in positive and negative emotions. I am currently setting up behavioural, PET and fMRI paradigms for investigating the interplay of specific neurotransmitters in different emotional processes.
Tatu Kantonen
I have recently started working on a prospective study on the neural risk factors of developing obesity in the adolescence. We use positron emission tomography and focus on brain’s opioidergic and endocannabinoid systems in individuals with high versus low personal and familial risk for obesity.

I am a medical student and work in the lab on data analysis procedures and computational tools for brain imaging database maintenance and development.
Research assistants and junior staff
Nella Rantala
I a
m a clinical psychologist and am working in the lab as a research assistant. My main tasks include metadata preparation for PET and MRI mega-analysis projects, and general data administration issues.
Jonatan Ropponen
I a
m a Master of Science (Technology) from Aalto University, majoring in mathematics, and in addition I have been studying medicine. I am helping the lab with data analysis and programming efforts.

Selected publications

102 Original international peer-reviewed articles
9 International peer-reviewed review articles
8 Texbooks
2 Books popularising science
5 Peer-review articles in Finnish journals
15 Book-chapters and non-reviewed articles
Selected publications
1. Nummenmaa, L., Hari, R., Hietanen, J.K., & Glerean, E. (2018). Maps of subjective feelings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 115, 9198–9203.
2. Manninen, S., Tuominen, L.J., Dunbar, R.I.M., Karjalainen, T., Hirvonen, J., Arponen, E., Hari, R., Jääskeläinen, I.P., Sams, M., & Nummenmaa, L. (2017). Social laughter triggers endogenous opioid release in humans. The Journal of Neuroscience, 37, 6125-6131.
3. Karlsson, H.K., Tuulari, J.J., Tuominen, L., Hirvonen, J., Honka, H., Parkkola, R., Helin, S., Salminen, P., Nuutila, P., & Nummenmaa, L. (2016). Weight loss after bariatric surgery normalizes brain opioid receptors in morbid obesity. Molecular Psychiatry, 21, 1057-1062.
4. Nummenmaa, L., Glerean, E., Hari, R., & Hietanen, J.K. (2014). Bodily maps of emotions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111, 646-651.
5. Nummenmaa, L., Glerean, E., Viinikainen, M., Jääskeläinen, I.P., Hari, R., & Sams, M. (2012) Emotions promote social interaction by synchronizing brain activity across individuals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109, 9599–9604.



  • 2017: Sigrid Juselius Foundation – research grant for project “Effects of Somatic, Psychological and Socioeconomic Well Being on Brain Health” (55,000€).
  •  2016: Academy of Finland - key project grant (#304385) for project Neuromolecular risk factors for obesity (295,508€).
  •  2016: Academy of Finland - research grant (#294897) for project Molecular And Functional Neural Mechanisms of Social Bonding in Humans (480,000€).
  • 2014: Academy of Finland - extension to research grant (#283320) for project Food addiction in the brain: Molecular and functional neural mechanisms of overeating and obesity (227,122€).
  • 2012: Academy of Finland MIND research program grant (#265917) for project: Face to Face: Molecular and Functional Neural Mechanisms of Social Bonding and Interaction (867,966€).
  •  2012: European Research Council Starting Grant (ERC-STG #313000) for project Fitting the World to Minds: Brain Basis of Sharing and Transmitting Representations of the Social World (1,280,480€)